Today on the site we have one of my favorite YA authors, and I know I’m not alone in that regard. Anna-Marie McLemore is a highly decorated author of magical realism, and if you haven’t yet read her stuff, I am so sorry that you have shortchanged yourself on knowing all the lyrical beauty she has to offer. Go fix that immediately! And if you need a little convincing, well, time to get to better know Anna-Marie McLemore.
Let’s jump right out of the gate with your new release, Wild Beauty. Why is this book so special to you, and does it have anything to do with a certain fabulous secondary character?
Wild Beauty is my bi Latina girls and murderous, enchanted gardens book. It’s the story in which I gave myself permission to go all in with the feel and setting of a fairy tale, but with the focus on the kind of girls we often see left out of fairy tales.
But I know what you really what to know, and yes, Dalia does happen to be one of my favorite characters I’ve ever written. 😉 She’s caring but can be brutally honest. She’s giving but also goes after what she wants. And she has secrets she’s keeping even from main character Estrella, the cousin who’s like a sister to her. All the Nomeolvides girls are queer, but Dalia is probably the most fearless in her bi identity.
I don’t think I’ve ever been as floored by a fairly new author’s resume as I was when I was refreshing myself on your accomplishments for a blog post earlier this year. How do you celebrate calls like “You’re on the National Book Award longlist!” and “You got a Stonewall Honor!”?
So, hypothetically how much would you judge me if I tell you there’s been at least one instance of donning a frilly dress and singing a rousing chorus of “I feel pretty, oh so pretty, I feel pretty, and witty, and GAYYYY!!!” (Blogger’s Note: I would obviously only judge this extremely favorably.)
You have such stunning covers. What part have you played in their process, and is there one that’s especially close to your heart?
I take no credit for the beautiful covers I’ve been lucky to have on my books. My eternal gratitude goes to the designers and art directors who create these incredible works of art, and to my editor, who often has an initial vision for what direction to go in. I’ve adored all my covers, but Wild Beauty does have a special place in my heart because it’s honestly the kind of fairy-tale cover I didn’t think queer Latina girl stories got.
I’m so excited to be writing for Saundra, Jessica, and Tess! I’ll give you a quick preview of each story:
“Glamour,” forthcoming in The Radical Element: A Latina girl tries to make it as an actress in Golden Age Hollywood, until a family spell throws her together with the scene painter she’s been avoiding since her first picture.
“Roja,” forthcoming in All Out: A retelling of Little Red Riding Hood in which Red is legendary outlaw La Carambada, the Wolf is a transgender French soldier, and the woods are the hills of central Mexico in the 1870s.
“Love Spell,” forthcoming in Toil & Trouble: A love witch falls for a deeply religious young man who has a few magical secrets of his own.
If you were creating an anthology, what would the theme be, and who would you have to have on board?
I would love to edit an anthology of inclusive queer fairy tales that take on not only LGBTQIAP+ identity but also intersectional identity—queer characters of color, queer characters of different faiths, queer characters with disabilities, and more. There are so many brilliant writers I’d love to have on board, but even thinking about asking them to be in my hypothetical anthology makes me nervous. So let’s start here: Would you be in, Dahl? (Blogger’s Note: Hell yes.)
You also have a new book coming out in 2018, called Blanca & Roja, which is sort of a mashup of Snow White, Rose Red and Swan Lake. First of all, that sounds amazing. Second of all, what about these stories in particular called to you to reimagine, and are there others we might see influencing you down the line?
Snow-White & Rose-Red was one of my favorite fairy tales growing up—the two very different sisters, the bear-prince, the frightening magic of the woods near their house. But if I was gonna retell Snow-White & Rose-Red, I knew I wanted to make it Latinx and queer. Sisters Blanca and Roja represent the false duality Latina women so often get cast in. Roja feels backed into being a girl who’s all venom and teeth, and Blanca, as the good girl, is supposed to fall in love with a particular boy. But the boy she actually falls for is nothing like she imagined—he’s genderqueer, he’s proud of his family’s oddness, and he’s as well acquainted with the woods’ frightening magic as she is. I can’t share why without telling spoilers, but I think this boy was the spark who first brought elements of Swan Lake into this book.
All of your books are Magical Realism, which is something that’s specifically found its roots in Latinx oppression. How do you find it serves exploring gender identity and sexual orientation in your work as well?
Magical realism provides a space where gender identity and sexual orientation can be explored in a uniquely Latinx setting, amid the expectations of family, community, and society. It also provides contrasts that are otherworldly but feel very real—a family where love has a terrifying legacy, but where a generation of girls understand each other’s bisexuality; a town that has long-held lore about its swans but doesn’t know quite what to do with a queer girl.
One theme that’s really strong in your work is strong secondary casts of female family. What about that speaks to you and does it have reflection in your own life?
I love exploring the communities that women make—how they lead and follow, how they push against each other, how they speak a common language, a shorthand, but how they also stay distinctly themselves. I grew up around more men than women, and I love them deeply, but so many of my close friends come from households run by women. So does my husband; he’s a trans guy who grew up in a family of mostly women.
What’s something that’s really stuck with you in LGBTQIAP+ lit, for better or for worse?
For a while there, I swear every time there was a queer couple in a series, one or both of them got killed off by book three, and that was the case whether the books were YA or adult. We are fortunately seeing less of that trope. There also wasn’t nearly as much intersectional LGBTQIAP+ lit, and while we still have a long way to go, that is, thankfully, changing.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that your post for Gay YA (now YA Pride) on having sex on the page in When the Moon Was Ours is one of my favorite blog posts of all time (and not just because of the shoutout to me). What else have you found are really important values to you in representation?
Letting queer characters and characters of color have space in their own stories, especially when those characters are being written by authors from our own communities. Characters with marginalized identities need space to grow and evolve in their own stories, they need room for realistic portrayals of the obstacles they face, and they need chances at happy endings.
Is there anything coming up for you that we haven’t covered yet?
I’m so excited to be hitting the road with the Fierce Reads tour this October during Wild Beauty’s release. I’m also thrilled to get to be at some festivals and conferences this fall; my upcoming schedule just went up on my website (http://author.annamariemclemore.com/p/news-events.html). Very soon I’ll be sharing details about a December event with Lily Anderson in Davis, California, and later this fall I’ll have a little about where I’ll be in 2018.
Thank you so much for having me!
Anna-Marie McLemore (she/her) was born in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains and taught by her family to hear la llorona in the Santa Ana winds. She is the author of THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS, a finalist for the 2016 William C. Morris Debut Award, and 2017 Stonewall Honor Book WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS, which was longlisted for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature. Her latest is WILD BEAUTY, and BLANCA & ROJA is forthcoming in fall of 2018.